October 22, 2021

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Tarrant County health officials warn of surge in Respiratory Syncytial Virus cases

3 min read

Tarrant County health officials and Cook Children’s Hospital are warning of an increase in a respiratory virus that normally peaks in the winter.

Respiratory Syncytial Virus, or RSV, can cause serious health problems for young children.

It’s a virus that causes severe breathing difficulty, and it typically shows up between October and January.

But Cook Children’s had 135 cases in just the last week of June.

Kids picking up a virus is just a part of growing up.

But Tarrant County Public Health officials said a surge of Respiratory Syncytial Virus is typically only seen in the winter.

“That’s what makes this season so unusual. Is the fact that we’re seeing cases increase throughout the month of June and July,” said Justin Smith, pediatrician for Cook Children’s Medical Center.

Last month, the CDC issued a health warning about increased RSV activity in the southern part of the United States.

And Tarrant County data shows cases rose dramatically in early June among children under the age of four.

“We’ve had a huge outbreak here in Tarrant County,” said Tarrant County Health Director Vinny Taneja. “We’re approaching almost 40% positivity rate. That’s huge.”

RSV is primarily spread through droplets when a person coughs or sneezes and through direct contact with a contaminated surface.

Doctors said, in older children, it looks and acts like the common cold.

“But it particularly affects younger children, where it can produce wheezing which can progress to difficulty breathing, so that’s the bigger concern, is in those younger children,” Smith explained.

The CDC said RSV is the leading cause of lung infections in children younger than one. 

Smith said parents should monitor eating habits, dehydration, and difficulty breathing, which are all signs of a worsening condition.

And in the age of COVID-19, he said they should pay even closer attention to their child’s exposure to others.

“Determining the difference between COVID and RSV could be tricky because the upper respiratory symptoms would be similar. But generally, with RSV, the children don’t have as high of fevers,” he said.

A chart from Cook Children’s Medical Center with RSV data from the last six years shows that peak of RSV typically hits in November.

But it’s started affecting kids early this year.

“We suspect that it has to do with the fact that there were a lot of masks being worn throughout the primary RSV season, and so it pushed the season back,” Smith said.

But Smith added it’s unclear whether or not that means this winter’s RSV season will also be delayed.

CDC data shows around 58,000 hospitalizations a year, and somewhere between 100 to 500 deaths in children under five.

Treating RSV is mostly about treating the symptoms and helping kids clear their noses, using nasal suction for babies.

Smith said it’s not the time to kiss babies, as it’s very easy for them to pick up the virus.

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